By Spc. Samuel Soza, 367th MPADFebruary 6, 2010
The line stretched the length of the USO, and who wouldn't want to meet and get autographs from the Florida Marlins cheerleaders or players or managers'
It was the same for country music star Kellie Pickler professional mixed martial-arts fighter Tito Ortiz and even the band Cracker.
These entertainers did not land themselves in Iraq, however. It all came together thanks in no small part to Contingency Operating Base Basra's award-winning Morale, Welfare and Recreation team.
Jimmy Roddy is an MWR community recreation officer working alongside Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division in the nine provinces that comprise United States Division-South.
"We're here to make sure that the entertainment gets out to all the areas in the South," said the Army brat from Tuscon, Ariz., "Basically from Bucca, which is Umm Qasr, right near Kuwait, up to Kalsu, a little bit south of Baghdad."
"My other responsibilities include being a kind of gym coordinator, seeing what MWR those areas might need," he said.
As a civilian, Roddy does not carry a rifle. Instead, he is armed with lines of communication.
From his desk, he makes purchases for gyms, reallocates extra equipment at various bases and assists in bringing tours of entertainers to the service members in USD-S - like the upcoming tour featuring former Pussycat Doll singer Kaya Jones.
"She'll be in the South, [early] February," he said.
Working such a big area has not forced the MWR team to focus tours on larger bases but rather the opposite, establishing a precedent for touring routes and acts that touch the entire area.
Such was the case when Tito Ortiz visited the area in December and wanted to meet Soldiers at one of the smaller bases.
"That was the first time [patrol base] Minden saw anyone," said Roddy, "Minden's a prime example - because they are so isolated, sometimes it's a logistical nightmare, but if we can get out there, we will."
So few were the Soldiers at Minden that the allotted hour for the meet-and-greet was met with 30 minutes to spare.
That led to a spontaneous trip to the tiny gym at the patrol base, where Ortiz showed the Soldiers some new submission moves for their hand-to-hand repertoire and even had a few takers for some quick matches.
Their resolve to serve troops even in the more remote places of Iraq recently won Roddy and his colleague Emma Burghart the Superior Civilian Service Award.
"That award was mainly for how we made a difference in getting the shows out," he said. "We made a difference, also, in the type of shows. We've started getting bigger names out here and it's because we've shown that we can take care of them."
Part of taking care of the acts directly involves the Soldiers.
"Basically, what we do is [assign tasks to] the units to help," he said, "Without the units, we wouldn't be as successful - whether it's moving the gear to the stage, baggage detail, transportation, security, housing."
The MWR team works with entertainment tours of varying size, both in stardom and personnel.
The ease of coordinating these tours relies on various considerations, Roddy said.
"It depends how big they are," he said, "Kellie Pickler put on more of an acoustic show, so we were able to do two shows a day. Typically, comedians [and] meet-and-greets are two-a-day, but if it's a big band, then there's a lot of equipment, and they'll usually do one show a day."
Roddy said the team does not choose artists or entertainers they prefer.
"It's not about me," he said, "It's about the Soldier."
The Soldiers' feedback is what helps the MWR team know which tours should be invited back and which ones to recommend to other MWR teams across Iraq, he said.
Roddy arrived at COB Basra Sept. 1. In late March, he will make his way back to his station at Camp Darby, Italy, and continue his 11-year career with MWR at the gym there.
"I volunteered to come over here, to see what it's like," he said, "to make a difference."
"I think that what we've done in the past five months has been a great benefit for the Soldiers," he said, "It's a huge team effort, because we couldn't cover all the areas in the south without the units. They do a great job."